A Letter to The Child I Never Thought I Could Love
We celebrated your 4th birthday at school yesterday. As I watched and listened to your parents telling us the story about you at each age, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. Actually, I haven’t stopped thinking about you for more than a year. You came to the environment (as a Montessorian, I never wanted to think of it as a classroom) at the tender age of 2 years and 9 months. I remember meeting you and your family for the first time. Your mother expressed some of her concerns, implying that I might not be capable enough of being your guide(again, as a Montessorian, I never wanted to call myself a teacher). I understood, and truthfully, I had a lot of doubts about myself at that point of my life. Perhaps, one of the reason why I fell in love with you is because my experience in working with you has brought out the best in me and taught me to love you in a way I never thought possible.
The first three days of school with you was a breeze: you were able to work with the activities that I showed you; you followed the rules and the limits of the environment and didn’t show any signs of the turmoil that was about to emerge. Your father even wrote me mentioning how surprised and impressed he was of how well the first few days went by for you. At the time I did not quite understand why your father would say this until the second week of school started. I found you with another child crying from the bite you gave her. It left a deep mark. Shocked, I looked in your eyes to see a blank look as if didn’t even realize what you just did. And, it continued. You bit a child that was lying down next to you during nap time without any provocation. Soon I started getting note after note from teachers about you kicking, shoving, and biting children when I was not present. Some of those were provoked by conflicts and many were not. Then I began to get dirty looks from other teachers. I remember one teacher loudly announcing, “Be careful with him because he is going to hurt someone!” I was embarrassed and hurt.
At one point, you caused seven severe injuries in a day! I just could not understand you. You were such a lovely child to work with one on one. You blew my mind in every conversation that we had. You were, you are, so articulate, thoughtful, and caring. So where was the aggressive child that sometimes took over coming from? What hurt me the most was that I care deeply about the children you were hurting and found it hard to be unbiased by their pain and fear of you. The difficult conversations with upset parents was a heavy burden for me as well.
I ended up having to request a meeting with your parents. My heart was pounding as I came to realize that I would have to meet your mother in person; your father would join us on the phone. When I shared my observations about you and my suggestions of what could be done at home to help, your mother responded that what I was asking was not doable for working parents. I don’t know what got to me that day, but I was able to gather the courage to tell your mother, “Parenting is a very mindful thing, I am not here for my convenience. These changes are for your child.” When we finished our meeting, I walked with your mother to pick you up from after care. We quickly learned that you had just kicked another child in the stomach. Even worse, the child’s mother was there trying to console her as you ran to your mother gleefully unaware of the harm you had caused while the after care teacher reported the incident. I could not hold my tears on my walk home that day at 6.30pm after starting the day at 7am while I was picturing your mother’s face and that mother’s face.
I remember thinking to myself if you are worth my energy to work with in the environment. I started my quest to research on articles, talked to other Montessorians and educators, and did everything that I could to keep my hopes up in supporting you and the other children under my care. Yet, things did not seem to get better. I did everything I could: I followed all the suggestions that I received and continuously working very closely with your parents. Yes, the 7 incidents dropped to 1 to 2 a day, but, it was still not significant enough to prove that you are not a threat to the environment.
Your name quickly became this sensation in our classroom community and even our school community. Your parents and I had to end up spending time having multiple meetings in the Head of School’s office to discuss about your progress throughout the year. At the same time, I tried my best to build and maintain good and strong relationships with your parents and other parents. It was difficult, on top of that, I also had to bear the look of others every time I had you near me.
You-biting-other-children incidents continued and to a point that I have to have a very difficult conversation with your parents on one of our Parent Teacher conference. I saw the pain in your father’s eyes. I had made every effort possible to not give up on you, but, I came to a breaking point. I felt the straining building in my relationship with your parents. Thankfully, your parents decided that it’s time for them to get a help from the expert. I am grateful every single day that you were blessed with incredibly supportive parents that are wise and thoughtful; and most importantly: they love you.
Things started to look up a little bit brighter, until a few weeks later, I received the news that your parents decided that they did not need the help anymore. Maybe, a little bit too early. During that time, you still threw major tantrums, still hurt others. Although there were slight improvements, it was clear that you still needed that help. One day, I was trying to set a limit with you and you responded by throwing a piece of furniture, though it was unintentional, it hurt me physically. Few days later, you got into a conflict with a friend of yours, and ended up throwing a tray that again hurt me as I am trying to protect the other child. A few parents even ended up having a meeting with the head of school discussing about what was the school’s policy in relation to what you had done to their children.
The head of school decided that it would be in your best interest to require your parents to continue your therapy and to set a time limit on your behavior improvement. I could see this coming and completely understood, but my heart still ached to hear it. It was too bad that the other parents and teachers are not with you as much as and that I cannot share your progress with them. They don’t get to see or hear how you tenderly cared for a friend of yours when he threw up in the environment. Meanwhile, all the other children cared more about the vomit. They didn’t see how you gave caring reminders to another friend to pick up his art work and even helped him pack his belongings so he could immediately go when his mom arrived early to pick him up. They don’t know how much you enjoy working with our maintenance staff and being the helper. They don’t know how you always say you miss children when they’re absent. You’re the only one out of 22 children that verbally expresses that he misses his friends at school. Your parents have also made a sincere commitment as they returned to getting you professional help — the help that gets you closer to being your best self. Witnessing their humility in receiving feedback and their willingness to change was truly inspiring.
Academically you are right on track: you hold your pencil correctly; you started sounding out phonetic words before your fourth birthday, you mastered 15 names of the countries in Africa, you knew all the names of The Geometric Solids with a blindfold when just turned three! You have absorbed the decimal systems concept to the thousandth. You just grasped every single concepts and new lessons that I presented you effortlessly! One of my most favorite memories was when you recently decided to sound out ‘jaguar’ and ‘panther’, followed by ‘vacuum’ and ‘mop’. Another one of my favorite was when you were having a difficulty in threading a needle. I had to do it for you in the end. But the next day, you picked up the same exercise and did it yourself, then proceeded to show it to me. If I could spend a day with you alone, I would definitely squeeze you in multiple tight hugs and cuddles. One thing that I know your parents had done right was that they have successfully raised you to be a child who wants to accomplish difficult things, and knows how to think and figure things out on your own! This will go a long way for you as you conquer your world.
As you turn four this week, you have shown tremendous development. We haven’t had any major incidents for a while now. Some of the parents are still showing their resistance toward you. A few are even advocating against you to the other parents and it shows in their children. Before we started your birthday celebration, a child even felt the need to tell your mother that you bit all the children. Luckily, I have learned to be quick in putting children and adults in their place nowadays. But it’s okay. I hope you know that what others say about you is a reflection of their hearts, not yours.
The good news is: you got to experience this at four. I didn’t really learn this fact of life until my mid-20s! Imagine what you would accomplish in your lifetime with this early head start! Some days I worried that you won’t have enough friends, but, after I thought about it, not having a lot of friends might actually be a good thing for you! You see, I never had a lot of friends, but I do keep very few of my friendships meaningfully for a long time. I genuinely feel that’s what really matters. Those are the people that came through for me; without fail! The “adorable” and “popular” child tends to grow up to be a bully and less compassionate anyways. At least, you will be less prone to be one.
Although I can’t predict what is going to happen in the rest of your time with me, but I hope you know that I am always hopeful for you and proud of you; no matter what you do. You have taught me what it means to fight a good fight, to be humble and to do the impossible- to do things that are way beyond my comfort zone. I am, therefore, a better person today. I also hope you know that, at any point of time, you could always pick up a phone and reach out to me. I will always do my best to be there for you, whether physically or in spirit. Most importantly, I hope you know how fortunate you are that you are loved by your incredible father (you see, I have a wonderful father, hence I know how to spot one) and your beautiful mother (I, too, have an incredible woman-of-strength as a mother). On your fourth year of life, I pray that you will always get back up one more time in fighting the good fight to be your best self and that you will always keep your ridiculous sense of humor.I pray that you learn to keep the friends that are capable of looking beyond your imperfections- those are the only ones that worth your friendships. And I pray that you never stop figuring life out!
With all my love for you,
Your Guide. (sometimes, I wish you can call me with my first name.)